A Coup Either Way

Turkey was doomed once the coup began. Either there would be rule by a military dictator who seized control or there would be rule by a democratically elected dictator who seized control. The coup cut both ways. As soon as it began, democracy itself was the toll.

Reactions to Terrorism

I read an article about how the West doesn’t show the same attention to terrorism in places like Iraq and Bangladesh than it does to France (the whole je suis paris thing, the flags, etc). On one hand, I totally get that. Why is everybody so aghast about terrorism in France and the US, but when there’s terrorism in Mali or Tunisia, not much of anything?

I think there’s four reasons. The first and most simple is just that a country full of Europeans being attacked is clearly going to resonate with more with Europeans or Americans. It’s a matter of likeness. It’s got to do with putting yourself in that situation. For instance, I simply cannot put myself in Bangladesh. It just doesn’t work. I can’t imagine being a Syrian. That just doesn’t compute. Not to say that makes it okay, because obviously it does not. More, I mean to say, similarities make the horror much more visceral.

There’s also a matter of scale and method. A gunman in a crowded place is viciously effective. The attack on the Bataclan is what we remembered the most. The attack on Pulse in Orlando. We don’t as much remember the smaller attacks that happened on the same day as the Bataclan attack because they weren’t nearly so terrible. Now, in that regard, the terrorist attacks in Turkey and Iraq are on par with the attack on the Bataclan.

That brings us to the third part. It’s difficult for most Westerners to distinguish between Turkey and Iraq. Sure, you and I know that Turkey is a very, very different country. For instance, Turkey is full of Turks and some Kurds. It’s not full of Arabs. Syria? Many Arabs and also some Kurds. That’s literally the first thing that comes to mind. The differences beyond that are diverse and expansive. But my point is, the attacks on Turkey didn’t have the same reaction because it’s harder for most Americans to distinguish Turkey from the other areas of the Middle East.

Now that we’ve established that, let’s move on to the fourth part: the most important difference between an attack on Iraq and the US is merely one of repetition. Ever since the early days of the US occupation in Iraq, there’s been tons of suicide bombings. The amount of terrorism in Iraq has numbed us. It’s impossible to be too shocked. If Iraq didn’t have any more terrorist bombings, I’d be pleasantly surprised. But that’s absurd. We all know there’s going to be more terrorism in Iraq. It’s going to be a long time before that’s fixed.

And there’s Bangladesh. The assassination of the bloggers shocked and concerned me. I was horrified that progressives were being targeted. Then came the massacre at the cafe and now a shooting a festival. We’re running into that repetition thing again. The more it happens, the less notable and the less shocking it is.

So, to the irritated and lonely people across the world wondering why the West is silent, there’s four reasons why. A few more attacks in Paris and it’ll be nothing more than a news item. It’s a sad excuse, I know, but that doesn’t mean that people in Europe and America don’t care. If nothing else, I care, I know which country is which, and I’m with you guys.

Conspiracy vs Propaganda

It’s impossible to tell who is in the right in foreign situations. There’s conspiracy theorists on one side and government propagandists on the other. People blame the government, but at the same time, they don’t have any proof. Maybe it’s true. Maybe the government is targeting them. Maybe it’s more nuanced than that. Without a massive investigation by an impartial body, it’s impossible to tell.

In Pakistan, radical Islamists like to claim the CIA orchestrated 9/11 (sound familiar?) and the CIA also orchestrated the Mumbai bombings and such. In other words, they convince people foreigners did terrible deeds, use that to radicalize other people, then convince them to do terrible deeds. There’s a certain irony to it. That is, if rank hypocrisy can really be ironic.

Back to the original point, it’s impossible to discern which side is telling the truth. Getting an independent voice on the ground is usually damn near impossible. Even if they get to the actual location, get the story, and publish it successfully, how are we to know if they’re even correct?

Without a free media, it’s all guesswork, implications, and partial truths. Even with a free media, there’s often a lot of questions with no good answers.

The State of Failed States: Recent Events in Syria and Iraq

In Syria, Aleppo is a human rights catastrophe. There is little hope the fighting will end soon. Previously, the fighting had mostly been between “moderate rebels” and government forces. However, extremist groups recently moved in. Al-Nusra unleashed a potent attack on Assad’s intelligence services in Aleppo. Most recently, the Syrian regime conducted an operation that ended with the death of the leader of al-Nusra. The battle is still raging, extremists battling moderates battling Assad’s regime.

Meanwhile, fighting in the south is going poor for Assad. Hezbollah, the elite proxy force based in Lebanon and receiving training and funding from Iran, is making rapid advances in Syria. They’ve recently pushed into the area near the Golan Heights, a disputed zone on the southern border of Syria, shared with Israel. This marks the first time any Iranian forces have gotten near the geographical borders of Israel.

Over in Iraq, the fight for Tikrit has been slow-going and rough. The plan, devised by Iranian generals and enacted mostly by Shiite militias, calls for the encirclement of the city. However, as predicted, roadside bombs are slowing the advance. The primarily Sunni citizens are fleeing, fearing both the fighting and potential atrocities by the sectarian forces under Iranian command.

The US hasn’t participated in the Tikrit campaign, leaving the Iranian and Iraqis to control the skies. Cooperation between Iran and the US doesn’t exist in Iraq. It’s mostly strategic dancing around each other, the Iranians on the ground and the US in the air. What do we gain from avoiding direct cooperation? Is this a matter of political optics?

Because it’s pretty clear we’d have more progress if the US worked with the Iranians. Even if the US don’t help them, the influence of Iran is already deeply ingrained in the Iraqi regime and even more so in its army. If the US does help, they’re essentially giving Iran the Sunni areas of Iraq on a platter. On the other hand, if the US doesn’t get involved, then how many will die because of partisan foreign policy?

Turkey: Diehard Republicans, Friends of Islam

Turkey is pushing hard for regional power. President Erdogan is trying to be seen as an unwavering champion of Muslims everywhere. During his 12 years in power, Erdogan took up the cause of the conservatives who had often been overlooked by previous administrations. The US has been increasingly frustrated as Erdogan jockeys for power in the midst of the Syria crisis, preventing the US from using bases that would be valuable and doing little to prevent extremists from crossing the border into Syria. All while ISIS/ISIL massacre and pillage, Erdogan turns a blind eye while he keeps his focus pinned to Assad.

Turkey has been in talks to join the EU for quite some now. Now Erdogan is turning away from that, disillusioned by European anti-Islam rhetoric and seeing the opportunity after the Arab Spring. Since the fall of Mubarak, the Turkish government has begun to back groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been seriously irritating Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Indeed, Erdogan supported the brief presidency of Mohamed Morsi before the Egyptian military overthrew him.

It must be noted that while Saudi Arabia and Egypt have a history of being strong allies of the US, neither country is run by a popularly elected government. Erdogan was elected multiple times. For all of that, though, the press in Turkey has been facing nearly the same levels of censorship.

Qatar is a very small country ruled by a monarchy, absurdly, and they’re the backers of al-Jazeera, which is basically run on oil wealth. When the Egyptian military smashed Morsi out of power, al-Jazeera was very critical. That has died down somewhat in the face of pressure from Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, Erdogan hasn’t wavered on the issue. When Qatar expelled leaders from Hamas, again due to pressure from Saudi Arabia, Erdogan was quick to extend his hand and offer safe haven in Turkey.

From the CS Monitor:

Mr. Davutoglu, now prime minister, “believes that Turkey can maximize its influence in the region if it supports democracies,” says Ms. Kenar, the Türkiye columnist. “He believes that if democracy prevails, Turkey will naturally be the leading country…

It’s an odd moment when Turkey, a country that supports right-wing Islamist movements both political and otherwise, is actually the beacon of democracy in the region. Wildly, Palestine, Lebanon, Kuwait*, and Turkey are the only countries in that area with representative governments. Turkey’s ruling party is basically the Muslim Brotherhood, while Hamas is actually a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. That leaves two countries, Lebanon and Kuwait*. Lebanon, a primarily Shia country, as one of the two countries in the region that isn’t controlled by either a dictatorship or a Sunni political party.

Now, hopping back a little to the list of democratic countries, it must be said that one could call Iran a democracy, as they do hold elections. Unfortunately, that’s misleading. There is little ambiguity in the fact that power is firmly held by the Ayatollah, which pretty much nixes the whole representative government thing. To add insult to injury, the Supreme Ayatollah is also the religious leader for all Shia, which includes Lebanon. The most prestigious group in Lebanon, Hezbollah, is a group of foreign-trained, foreign-equipped, and foreign-funded Shiite soldiers that specialize in asymmetrical warfare. They are, essentially, an outgrowth of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

So that’s the landscape of the Muslim world (excluding poor Kuwait*). That’s what Turkey leans into, and to be terribly honest, it doesn’t take much squinting to see Turkey as a haven for republican ideals. While the Muslim Brotherhood and others seek to reimpose Sharia elsewhere in the region, that’s a nonstarter in Turkey. In other words, the only things to truly fear from an Islamic government is untenable (for now) in Turkey. Perhaps, then a realignment could be a good thing. Perhaps when Erdogan finally is pushed out of power, Turkey will come with new ideas and solid credentials and help the downtrodden countries of the region back on the path to true and lasting democracy.

(Note: the first four paragraphs are largely a summary of this article)

*Whoops I completely forgot about Kuwait in the original version of this post. I had to do some research. I’ve learned that Kuwait is fascinating. More on that later.

Graft, Sectarianism, and War in the Middle East

Bahrain, which is a close ally of Saudi Arabia, is dealing with serious terrorism issues. Why, you ask? Well, Bahrain is a majority Shia country under the yoke of Sunni royalty. Sound familiar? Sound like, say, Iraq or Syria or Yemen? Predictably, a tiny minority of the Shia majority are rising up, and given the new standard model of an insurgency, they rely on terrorist bombing.

So why are these authoritarian governments continually holding on to power? Let’s get some perspective from Yemen. The former president of Yemen is a billionaire. He’s the one who recently was forced from power by the Houthi and is now in his stronghold of Aden. Now it’s come to light that he skimmed anywhere from 30 to 62 BILLION dollars in his 33 years in “office.” Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East.

And that’s true in Egypt too. The military dictatorship there, led by Sisi, is one of the main benefactors. They make tons of money off of commercial enterprises and their source of income would be threatened by a non-military government. Like many other illegitimate governments, Egypt is dealing with it’s own insurgency in Sinai. The conflict, of course, isn’t staying put.

An Egyptian court listed the militant wing of Hamas, the Palestinian organization, as a terrorist group. Hamas, by the way, is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian court accused Hamas of supporting the insurgency in the Sinai peninsula, saying “it has been proven without any doubt” that Hamas committed violence against Egyptian security forces in Sinai. However, It should be noted that Egypt has always been a key player in keeping the blockade on Gaza, and while that doesn’t excuse terrorism, it explains why Hamas might be supporting insurgent in Sinai.

So here we have greedy politicians/generals fighting insurgencies against large swaths of the population that they regular fuck over. Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Pakistan, and probably more. All the while, Qatar quietly funds the most influential media organization and pushes their own agenda without a care for their journalists. Iran funds any Shia group it can and Saudi Arabia funds arch-conservative Sunni ideologues that try to bring back the stone ages. Money and the military are bringing down the whole area. The conflicts won’t end until the jaw-dropping graft and sectarian struggles are finally abolished. I don’t have much confidence that’ll happen any time soon.

Austrian restrictions on Islam: Why it’s worse than you think.

Austria just passed a bill putting restrictions on Islam. The two most notable portions break down like this: Imams are required to speak German, which is intended to integrate them into the society, and the law bans foreign funding for mosques, which is intended to prevent influence from Iran and Turkey on Austrian Muslims. Of course, the overall aim is to combat radicalization of Muslim youth.

That said, Austria is one of the few places in Europe that doesn’t have much a problem with its Muslim population. Why, you ask? Well, it boils down to a longstanding relationship with Muslim communities. All throughout the last thousand years, the influence of the Ottoman Empire brought Islam to a great many peoples in the Balkans and and up near Austria. In 1912, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire passed a law that made Islam an official religion.

This was a bid to draw Muslims into the armies, because years of politics and war had stitched together a great many dissimilar peoples under one government. Without unity, the empire would never be able to fend off the Russians under the Czar or the Ottomans. Indeed, two years after the law was passed, World World One began. By the end of the war, the empire had fragmented. For the first time in a long time, Austria became a single country, yet it managed to maintain this 1912 law of inclusiveness.

And here we are in 2015, at a time when Austria enjoys a remarkable degree of religious tolerance and togetherness for a European nation. And here Austria tries to destroy what has taken so long to develop. Over a hundred years of progress can’t disappear all at once, however, so maybe they’ve got a chance to survive the backsliding.

Further reading/sources: An article about a different form of the law from November; background on the 1912 law (search the page for 1912 to jump to it); a BBC brief; a more detailed article from The Local in Austria.